Review by BloodGod65

"Halo 3: Just Another Shooter (Single-Player Campaign Review)"

Since the launch of the Xbox, Halo has been the most important weapon in Microsoft's arsenal. It was, after all, the single biggest factor in the success of Microsoft's first foray into console territory and drove sales from the beginning of the Xbox's lifecycle to the end of it. With that in mind, it shouldn't have been any surprise that Halo would appear on Microsoft's new console sooner or later. So here it is, the grand finale of the Halo trilogy.

For all intents and purposes Halo 3 picks up right where Halo 2 left off. The Covenant have found Earth and are attacking it as part of their divine Crusade. But they've also found a Forerunner artifact on Earth, called the Ark, which has the power to simultaneously activate all Halo rings, and is yet another step in their Crusade. Naturally they aren't aware that the rings were designed to wipe out all life in the galaxy in order to contain the Flood. Stepping into the Master Chief's shoes (or armor-plated boots as it were) once again, players must not only finish the fight but do it before the Covenant wipe out all life.

Like the rest of the series, the plot is one part highly polished science fiction cliche and one part incomprehensible garbage. And, as in previous games, the story takes serious leaps without sufficient explanation and deus ex machina plot developments occur on a regular basis, usually leaving players scratching their heads. I often found myself staring at the screen wondering “Who is this?”, “Why did this just happen?”, “How is this even possible?” and muttering “Well that sure was convenient”. In the end, the plot is an utter mess due to its supremely confusing and convoluted nature. And this is coming from someone who has actually kept up with the Halo backstory through the official novels, and though they weren't exactly easy to figure out either, they did fill in many of the details of what was happening. I can only wonder how lost one would be if they'd only played the games.

For all my criticisms of the story, it does have one thing going for it – it actually ends the series. When it's all said and done, there are no lingering doubts as to whether or not the war is over or who won it, which is a blessing considering the cliffhanger ending of Halo 2. And I would suggest that players stick around after the credits roll…

Though I can express nothing but distaste for the story, I'm guessing the vast majority of Halo fans don't come to a first person shooter looking for a thoughtful narrative. Like its predecessors, Halo 3 is all about fast-paced shooting, sprinkled with some light tactical know-how. And it plays exactly the same as the two games before it.

So has Bungie bothered to try anything new for this game? Indeed they have, but none of it is radically different than what we've seen before. There are plenty of new weapons, mainly from the Brute arsenal, like the Gravity Hammer that was seen, but unusable, in Halo 2. This giant melee weapon can destroy most enemies in a single blow. Then there's the Mauler, a quick firing single handed shotgun. It is now even possible to rip the guns from turrets and use them. Doing so pulls the camera out to a third-person perspective and slows the Chief down to a crawl. This is probably as good a time as any to mention that nearly every gun, aside from rocket launchers, feel weak. Their audio design is unremarkable and the feedback via vibration doesn't do much to make them feel any better.

Thankfully, the actual gunplay is as tight and responsive as ever, which (from a technical standpoint at least) shows why Halo is often thought of as the single best console FPS ever. Even in the heat of battle while running from cover to cover, or jumping through the air, snapping off shots at the enemy is fluid and remarkably easy.

Other additions include a whole slew of new vehicles. These include some Brute rides, such as the Chopper, a motorcycle-like monstrosity from hell and a few new human rides like the Mongoose, an ATV. I was especially entertained with the Mongoose, as during special segments a spunky guy with a rocket launcher will board the back and attack the enemy as you buzz along. This greater variety of rides is welcome given that there are significantly more vehicular segments in this game than the other two. And they are generally fun, although control does become an issue from time to time. The actual control scheme is as intuitive and easy to use as ever but the actual vehicle physics are often too floaty and loose.

A final new addition is equipment. The Master Chief can now pick up random power-ups. These include the bubble shield, which causes a large spherical force field to project where it is dropped, protecting the user from bullets and explosions, although enemies can still come through it (opening the perfect opportunity for a face full of plasma sword). Then there is the flare, which blinds everyone nearby, and a grenade type device that sucks the energy from shields and causes vehicles to stop in their tracks.

Level design has often been a point of contention in previous Halo games, due to Bungie using the same level over and over (remember going after the Index in the original Halo?). Thankfully, they've finally dropped that lazy tactic so you won't be going through the same areas again and again, though there is at least one highly familiar area here. With that said, levels still feel too restrictive given that Halo is now operating on next-gen hardware. They often consist of narrow corridors which just funnel the player down one tight path with no room for deviation. Thankfully, the abundance of open vehicle levels is there to combat any feelings of claustrophobia.

In terms of what players will be doing throughout the campaign, there's a pervasive sense of familiarity coupled with outright boredom. You'll be taking down another Scarab in one on one combat, for instance. And some of the objectives are downright passe by now, such as taking out AA guns (what the hell is this, Call of Duty?). Success often comes down to a matter of sheer luck, especially when the Flood gets involved. Once the game starts throwing massive groups of constantly respawning enemies into the mix, the pseudo-tactical nature of the game completely breaks down. When this problem crops up in one of those constrictive levels it all goes to hell. Unfortunately, this situation applies to the entire endgame, which will likely leave a sour taste in your mouth when it's all over.

There are a couple of other issues, the first of which should take about as long to address as beating the game. It is, in fact, a very short game, and I blazed through it in well under six hours on the normal difficulty setting. Then there's the lousy checkpoint system to contend with. Not only are there often large spans of time between checkpoints, they have a bad habit of not registering. On several occasions, they registered at inopportune times, such as one that had me in a burning tank with a rocket already flying my way. The game did an autosave and I was killed and killed and killed in a loop of infinite irritation.

It probably goes without saying that Halo 3 is the best looking to date. At first it isn't much to brag about, but once the level design opens up a little in the outdoor environments, the details start to emerge and it's a nice looking game. Finally getting to see the fine details on things such as the Master Chief's MJOLNIR armor and Pelican dropships is nice, since the lower processing power of the Xbox didn't allow these things to become apparent. This benefits enemies as well, especially the Hunters. If you crapped your pants at their arrival before, you might cry now. The Flood probably benefits the most from the graphical overhaul and are truly disgusting to look at now (but in a good way).

As for the audio, it's mostly above average. The choral Halo theme is still every bit as chilling as the first time I heard it and the voice acting is quite good, with numerous celebrity actors such as Ron Perlman and Keith David. As always the Covenant dialog is hilarious and my personal favorite line was “Suck it heretic!” as screamed by a Grunt. My one big complaint in this area is with the subtitles option. Audibility for voices has always been a problem with the series as music and sound effects tend to drown out what is being said. Though you can turn captions on, this only applies for a few intermittent cutscenes The rest of the time you just have to strain to hear what is being said.

When asked what my favorite game for the Xbox was, I always respond “Halo” without a moment's hesitation. With the third game in the series, things are nearly the same as they were way back then. So why don't I like it? For that very same reason. It's functionally the same game I've played twice already with Halo and Halo 2. Sure, new weapons and vehicles have been added, but nothing of substantial value. I want the envelope to be pushed, for things to be taken to new heights. For a series as monumental as this, Bungie should have done so much more.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 06/12/09, Updated 07/06/10

Game Release: Halo 3 (US, 09/25/07)

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